on swimming and systems.

A thing I think about a lot is the amount of invisible infrastructure needed to support our highly specific lives. Like tonight, I went swimming. It’s a very simple act that requires a highly technical and complicated system of chemistry, physics, math, mechanical engineering, and a huge amount of oil and coal to manufacture and run it all. The bus that takes me there and runs back, on asphalt roads, rubber and tires and a diesel-electric hybrid engine, with focus-grouped patterned seats in an indestructible fabric woven out of plastic. The pH balance of the pool, the chemical composition of the grout holding the tiles together, metal halide lamps, the polyester spandex blend of your suit, the little grippy patches along the pool lip to hold on to while you discuss with your swimming partner the news of the day. Who could invent all this by themselves, given a blank slate and all the materials? Tiny inventions, one by one, building upon each other like coral, and we take it for granted. Just so I can get some uninterrupted thinking time and exhaust myself deliciously before bed.

We grew up swimming in lakes and occasionally dams. Water, mud, sky, plants, fauna. Don a suit (or not) and wade in: algae, leeches, slimy muck engulfing your toes, seaweed groping your legs, and in one case, a rusty nail in a 2×4 that made my vacation rather more exciting than scheduled. I can’t say it’s any more fun, but then I don’t swim for fun anymore, other than the enjoyment of having exercised. (I am telling myself that I enjoy exercising; having utterly resisted all attempts at gamification, my brain is easily fooled by the simple expedient of telling it what it likes or doesn’t like.) So the complicated city swimming uncomplicates outcomes; and the simple country swimming ends up in a trip to the ER on the weekend of your grandparents’ 50th anniversary, an ER that may or may not still exist out Canora way. More examples of infrastructure humming away under the edges of your life, HVAC systems and healthcare scheduling and sterile bandages catching you, propping you up, sending you back out.